Is it a competition? the woman with dark hair and glasses asked. I stood writing in a small notebook. On the contrary, I said. I told her this installation is a major and ongoing project. The artist Halima Cassell was born in Kashmir, then raised in the UK. In England she is called a “foreigner” or “second generation migrant”, so she has always been aware of issues of identity. However, when she visited Pakistan as an adult in 2009, she was called “British Asian” or more frequently “a foreigner from England”.
This sense of double dislocation was the trigger for Virtues of Unity. Different countries produce different colours and textures of clay. Each sculpture has its own design. Superficially, we seem dissimilar, but we share DNA. We all come from the clay of the earth and will return to that same elemental clay. The shape of the sculpture resembles the earth, the holes remind us of the womb and the birth canal. Halima was pregnant with her first child when she conceived the project.
So far, Halima has made 39 vessels. Her aim is to make 195, one for each of the countries in the world today. It will be a life-long journey. Each of the sculptures has been made from the clay of that country. The designs of each vessel and the titles represents a positive quality of that country, eg the Netherlands is called Harmony.
I was on a writing workshop at Manchester Art Gallery and we were to imagine a public superhero with a piece of art in the Gallery. I have been pleased to read that the under 35’s are streaming the composer J S Bach. He has been one of my superheroes for many years.
Virtues of Unity
He seemed invisible to visitors,
though he was dressed in a costume
of the period, and his wig resembled
curved waves of a waterfall.
In truth, I thought he was part
of the installation: thirty-nine spheres,
each one representing a country and
made from the clay of this country.
He moved slowly anticlockwise,
stopped at the small ceramic vessel,
a creamy white called Faith.
The positive quality of Germany.
A slow smile grew on his face
when he saw there were no openings,
that the vessel seemed restful,
flowering into a solid cathedral.
Russet, tan, black, brown, beige, taupe,
grey, creamy-white, white. Eyes fixed
on his native country, he started humming
Jesu, joy of man’s desiring, and I was glad.